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9: Edith meets the Player

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Author Topic: 9: Edith meets the Player  (Read 36 times)
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« on: April 11, 2023, 07:07:08 am »

EDITH turned to her waiting maid.

“Go out and bring the girl in at once,” she said quietly.

“Which girl, madam?” asked the startled servant.

“The girl who is playing,” said Edith. “Hurry please, before she goes.”

She was filled with sudden determination to unravel this mystery. She might be acting disloyally to her husband, but she adjusted any fear she may have had on the score with the thought that she might also be helping him. The maid returned in a few minutes and ushered in a girl.

Yes, it was the girl she had seen on her wedding night. She stood now, framed in the doorway, watching her hostess with frank curiosity.

“Won’t you come in?” said Edith. “Have you had any dinner?”

“Thank you very much,” said the girl, “we do not take dinner, but I had a very good tea.”

“Will you sit down for a little while?”

With a graceful inclination of her head the girl accepted the invitation.

Her voice was free from the foreign accent which Edith had expected. She was indubitably English, and there was a refinement in her tone which Edith had not expected to meet.

“I suppose you wonder why I have sent for you?” asked Edith Standerton.

The girl showed two rows of white, even teeth in a smile.

“When people send for me,” she said demurely, “it is either to pay me for my music, or to bribe me to desist!”

There was frank merriment in her eyes, her smile lit up the face and changed its whole aspect.

“I am doing both,” said Edith, “and I also want to ask you something. Do you know my husband?”

“Mr. Standerton,” said the girl, and nodded. “Yes, I have seen him, and I have played to him.”

“Do you remember a night in June,” asked Edith, her heart beating faster at the memory, “when you came under this window and played”---she hesitated---“a certain tune?”

The girl nodded.

“Why, yes,” she said in surprise, “of course I remember that night of all nights.”

“Why of all nights?” asked Edith quickly.

“Well, you see as a rule my grandfather plays for Mr. Standerton, and that night he was ill. He caught a bad chill on Derby Day,---we were wet through by the storm, for we were playing at Epsom---and I had to come here and deputise for him. I did not want to go out a bit that night,” she confessed with a bitter laugh, “and I hate the tune; but it was all so mysterious and so romantic.”

“Just tell me what was ‘mysterious’ and what was ‘romantic,’ ” said Edith.

The coffee came in at that moment, and she poured a cup for her visitor.

“What is your name?” she asked.

“May Wing,” said the girl.

“Now tell me, May, all you know,” said Edith, as she passed the coffee, “and please believe it is not out of curiosity that I ask you.”

“I will tell you everything,” said the girl, nodding “I remember that day particularly because I had been to the Academy of Music to take my lesson---you would not think we could afford that, but granny absolutely insists upon it. I got back home rather tired. Grandfather was lying down on the couch. We live at Hoxton. He seemed a little troubled. ‘May,’ he said, ‘I want you to do something for me to-night.’ Of course, I was quite willing and happy to do it.”

The girl stopped suddenly.

“Why, how extraordinary,” she said, “I believe I have got proof in my pocket of all that I say.”

She had hanging from her waist a little bag of the same material as her dress, and this she opened and searched inside.

She brought out an envelope.

“I will not show you this yet,” she said, “but I will tell you what happened. Grandfather, as I was saying, was very troubled, and he asked me if I would do something for him, knowing of course that I would.

“ ‘I have had a letter which I cannot make head or tail of,’ he said, and he showed me this letter.”

The girl held out the envelope.

Edith took it and removed the card inside.

“Why, this is my husband’s writing!” she cried.

“Yes,” nodded the girl.

It bore the postmark of Doncaster, and the letter was brief. It was addressed to the old musician, and ran:---

“Enclosed you will find a postal order for one pound. On receipt of this go to the house of Mr. Standerton between the hours of half-past seven and eight o’clock and play Rubinstein’s ‘Melody in F.’ Ascertain if he is at home, and if he is not return the next night and play the same tune at the same hour.”

That was all.

“I cannot understand it,” said Edith, puzzled. “What does it mean?”

The girl musician smiled.

“I should like to know what it meant too. You see, I am as curious as you, and think it is a failing which all women share.”

“And you do not know why this was sent?”

“No.”

“Or what is its meaning?”

Again the girl shook her head.

Edith looked at the envelope and examined the postmark.

It was dated May the twenty-fourth.

“May the twenty-fourth,” she repeated to herself. “Just wait one moment,” she said, and ran upstairs to her bedroom.

Feverishly she unlocked her bureau and took out the red-covered diary in which she had inscribed the little events of her life in Portland Square. She turned to May the twenty-fourth. There were only two entries. The first had to do with the arrival of a new dress but the second was very emphatic:—

“G. S. came at seven o’clock and stayed to dinner. Was very absent-minded and worried apparently. He left at ten. Had a depressing evening.”

She looked at the envelope again.

“Doncaster, 7.30,” it said.

So the letter had been posted a hundred and eighty miles away half an hour after he had arrived in Portland Square.

She went back to the dining-room bewildered, but she controlled her agitation in the presence of the girl.

“I must really patronise one of the arts,” she smiled.

She took a half-sovereign from her purse and handed it to May.

“Oh, really,” protested the little musician.

“No, take it, please. You have given me a great deal to think about. Has Mr. Standerton ever referred to this incident since?”

“Never,” said the girl. “I have never seen him since except once when I was on the top of an omnibus.”

A few minutes later the girl left.

Here was food for imagination, sufficient to occupy her mind, thought Edith.

“What did it mean?” she asked, “what mystery was behind all this?”

Now that she recalled the circumstances, she remembered that Gilbert had been terribly distrait that night; he was nervous, she had noticed his hand shaking, and had remarked to her mother upon his extraordinary absent-mindedness.

And if he had expected the musician to call, and if he himself had specified what tune should be played, why had its playing produced so terrible an effect upon him? He was no poseur.

There was nothing theatrical in his temperament.

He was a musician, and loved music as he loved nothing else in the world save her!

She thought of that reservation with some tenderness.

He had loved her then, whatever might be his feelings now, and the love of a strong man does not easily evaporate, nor is it destroyed at a word.

Since their marriage his piano had not been opened. He had been a subscriber to almost every musical event in London, yet he had not attended a single concert, not once visited the opera.

With the playing of the “Melody in F” it seemed to her there had ended one precious period of his life.

She had suggested once that they should go to a concert which all musical London was attending.

“Perhaps you would like to go,” he had suggested briefly. “I am afraid I shall be rather busy that night.” This, after he had told her not once, but a score of times that music expressed to him every message and every emotion in language clearer than the printed word.

What did it mean? She was seized with a sudden energy, a sudden desire for knowledge---she wanted to share a greater portion of his life. What connection had this melody with the sudden change that had come to him? What association had it with the adoption of this strenuous life of his lately? What had it to do with his resignation from the Foreign Office and from his clubs?

She was certain there must be some connection, and she was determined to discover what.

As she was in the dark she could not help him. She knew instinctively that to ask him would be of little use. He was of the type who preferred to play a lone hand.

She was his wife, she owed him something. She had brought unhappiness into his life, and she could do no less than strive to help him. She would want money.

She sat down and wrote a little note to her mother. She would take the three hundred pounds which were due from the broker; she even went so far as to hint that if this matter were not promptly settled by her parent she herself would see Mr. Warrell and conclude negotiations.

She had read in the morning paper the advertisement of a private detective agency, and for a while she was inclined to engage a man. But what special qualifications did private detectives have that she herself did not possess? It required no special training to use one’s brains and to exercise one’s logical faculties.

She had found a mission in life---the solution of this mystery which surrounded her husband like a cloud. She found herself feeling cheerful at the prospect of the work to which she had set her hand.

“You should find yourself an occupation,” Gilbert had said in his hesitating fashion.

She smiled, and wondered exactly what he would think if he knew the occupation she had found.

---

The little house in Hoxton which sheltered May and her grandfather was in a respectable little street in the main inhabited by the members of the artisan class. Small and humble as the dwelling was it was furnished in perfect taste. The furniture was old in the more valuable and more attractive sense of the word.

Old man Wing propped up in his arm-chair sat by a small fire in the room which served as kitchen and dining-room. May was busy with her sewing.

“My dear,” said the old man in his gentle voice. “I do not think you had better go out again to-night.”

“Why not, grandpa?” asked the girl without looking up from her work.

“Well, it is probably selfishness on my part,” he said, “but somehow I do not want to be left alone. I am expecting a visitor.”

“A visitor!”

Visitors were unusual at No. 9 Pexton Street, Hoxton. The only visitor they knew was the rent man who called with monotonous regularity every Monday morning.

“Yes,” said her grandfather hesitatingly, “I think you remember the gentleman; you saw him some time ago.”

“Not Mr. Standerton?”

The old man shook his head.

“No, not Mr. Standerton,” he said, “but you will recall how at Epsom a rather nice man helped you out of a crowd after a race?”

“I remember,” she said.

“His name is Wallis,” said the old man, “and I met him by accident to-day when I was shopping.”

“Wallis,” she repeated.

Old Wing was silent for a while, then he asked----

“Do you think, my dear, we could take a lodger?”

“Oh, no,” protested the girl. “Please not!”

“I find the rent rather heavy,” said her grandfather, shaking his head, “and this Mr. Wallis is a quiet sort of person and not likely to give us any trouble.”

Still the girl was not satisfied.

“I would rather we didn’t,” she said. “I am quite sure we can earn enough to keep the house going without that kind of assistance. Lodgers are nuisances. I do not suppose Mrs. Gamage would like it.”

Mrs. Gamage was the faded neighbour who came in every morning to help straighten the house.

The girl saw the old man’s face fall and went round to him, putting her arm around his shoulder.

“Do not bother, grandpa dear,” she said, “if you want a lodger you shall have one. I think it would be rather nice to have somebody in the house who could talk to you when I am out.”

There was a knock at the door.

“That must be our visitor,” she said, and went to open it. She recognised the man who stood in the doorway.

“May I come in?” he asked. “I wanted to see your grandfather on a matter of business. I suppose you are Miss Wing.”

She nodded.

“Come in,” she said, and led the way to the kitchen.

“I will not keep you very long,” said Mr. Wallis. “No, thank you, I will stand while I am here. I want to find a quiet lodging for a friend of mine. At least,” he went on, “he is a man in whom I am rather interested, a very quiet sobersides individual who will be out most of the day, and possibly out most of the night too.” He smiled. “He is a----” He hesitated. “He is a taxi-cab driver, to be exact,” he said, “though he does not want this fact to be well known because he has seen---er---better days.”

“We have only a very small room we can give your friend,” said May, “perhaps you would like to see it.”

She took him up to the spare bedroom which they had used on very rare occasions for the accommodation of the few visitors who had been their guests. The room was neat and clean, and George Wallis nodded approvingly.

“I should like nothing better than this for myself,” he said.

He himself suggested a higher price than she asked, and insisted upon paying a month in advance.

“I have told the man to call, he ought to be here by now; if you do not mind, I will wait for him.”

It was not a long wait, for in a few minutes there arrived the new lodger. He was a burly man with a heavy black beard, clipped short, and the fact that he was somewhat taciturn and short of speech rather enhanced his value as a lodger than otherwise.

Wallis took farewell of the old man and his grand-daughter, and accompanied by the man, whose name was given somewhat unpromisingly as Smith, he walked to the end of the street.

He had something to say, and that something was important.

“I have got you this place, Smithy,” he said, as they walked slowly towards Hoxton High Street, “because it is quiet and fairly safe. The people are respected, and nobody will bother you.”

“They are not likely to worry me in any way, are they?” said the man addressed as Smith.

“Not at present,” replied the other, “but I do not know exactly how things are going to develop. I am worried.”

“What are you worried about?”

George Wallis laughed a little helplessly.

“Why do you ask such stupid questions?” he said with good-natured irritation. “Don’t you realise what has happened? Somebody knows our game.”

“Well, why not drop it?” asked the other quietly.

“How can we drop it? My dear good chap, though in twelve months we have accumulated a store of movable property sufficiently valuable to enable us all to retire upon, there is not one of us who is willing at this moment to cut out---it would take us twelve months to get rid of the loot,” he said thoughtfully.

“I do not exactly know where it is,” said Smith with a little smile.

“Nobody knows that but me,” replied Wallis with a little frown, “that is the worrying part of it. I feel the whole responsibility upon me. Smithy, we are being really watched.”

The other smiled.

“That isn’t unusual,” he said. But Wallis was very serious.

“Whom do you suspect?” he asked.

The other did not answer for a moment.

“I do not suspect, I know,” he said. “A few months ago, when Calli and I were doing a job in Hatton Garden we were interrupted by the arrival of a mysterious gentleman, who watched me open the safe and disappeared immediately afterwards. At that time he did not seem to be particularly hostile or have any ulterior motive in view. Now, for some reason which is best known to himself, he is working against us. That is the man we have got to find.”

“But how?”

“Put an advertisement in the paper,” said the other sarcastically: “Will the gentleman who dogs Mr. Wallis kindly reveal his identity, and no further action will be taken.”

“But seriously!” said the other.

“We have got to discover who he is, there must be some way of trapping him; but the only thing to do, and I must do it for my own protection, is to get you all together and share out. We had better meet.”

Smith nodded.

“When?”

“To-night,” said Wallis. “Meet me at the . . . .”

He mentioned the name of a restaurant near Regent Street.

It was, curiously enough, the very restaurant where Gilbert Standerton invariably dined alone.

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